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Steelers in holding pattern as heated CBA talks drag on

Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

INDIANAPOLIS -- Like all NFL teams, the Steelers' plans for what to do with contract extensions and in free agency have been put on hold while league owners wait for the players union to ratify or reject a new collective bargaining agreement.

The board of player representatives for the NFL Players Association voted on Wednesday to send the proposed CBA to the nearly 2,000-player membership for a vote -- a seemingly positive step to finalizing the 10-year agreement and preventing further delay.

Guard Ramon Foster is in charge of presenting the agreement to the Steelers as the team's player representative and asking them if they want to follow the vote of their union leaders. Among other things, the new agreement calls for an enlarged share of league revenue, an expanded playoff format that would begin in 2020 and a 17-game season that would begin in 2021.

While the ratification process could take anywhere from a week to two weeks, teams have either been unable or reluctant to conduct business because they do not know what the league rules will be for the upcoming season. That includes the salary cap, which could go as high as $230 million under the new CBA.

For example, Tuesday was to be the first day teams could start issuing franchise and transition tags on their free agents. But that has been pushed back, pending resolution of a new deal. The deadline for using the tags was originally scheduled for March 10, but that will be pushed back, as well.

Also, under the new agreement, teams will no longer be allowed to use both the franchise and transition tag in the same year.

 

"We will be handed down new rules if there ever is a new agreement," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL combine. "But, right now, we are working under the assumption of the current rules."

Nonetheless, the delay is affecting the Steelers for now. They are expected to use the franchise tag on linebacker Bud Dupree and keep him with the team for at least one more season. Also, they want to sign All-Pro defensive end Cam Heyward to a new contract that will make him one of the highest paid linemen in the league. Both will have to wait.

What's more, any decision on which players might have to be released or have their contracts restructured for salary-cap relief will have to wait until a new cap is in place. The Steelers held their free agency meetings last week, but any final determinations could not be made.

"We have projections of what we may have to do, but it's all predicated on what we do -- who we sign, who we may be able to cut," Colbert said. "That usually unfolds later in the spring and into the summer. We're getting a feel for what our cap would be."

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